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    April 10, 2009
The Patriot Teams of the Decades
By:  Stan Jaksina
PatsFans.com Fan Columnist

What is interesting about the forty years of Patriot history prior to the 00's under CoachB is that in each decade, there were a few teams that were really outstanding. In two of those decades they franchise produced a team that went to the Super Bowl, In another, it was a team that should have and in the early stages, a team that went to the AFL Championhip game. Also, each decade had a few teams that were quite poor to balance it off. Thusly, it has been a real roller coaster ride with this franchise until this decade.

I wanted to list the team of each of the four decades, the three that were recently named and the first (AFL) decade, and talk about some of the players that were selected. I also wanted to add a few words about the best teams and the worst of that decade and add five players to each team as honorable mention, as I think there are some players that were deserving. All of the four teams were well thought out and contained the best players of those decades and one could see that although it is the 00s that had the three Lomvardi's, the franchise has always had some really outstanding players. What is odd is that only one decade beside the current one had a winning record for those ten years.

THE SIXTIES

The team was 63-68-9 in the decade and played for the AFC title with a strong team in 1963. They had a poor year to open the franchise, but became strong after that initial poor first year. The team actually was only a game away from the first Super Bowl, but had a season finale ruined by Namath, Snell and Boozer in New York. The last three years, the team went into a tail spin, with only 11 wins in three years.

Offense--QB Babe Parilli--RBs Jim Nance, Larry Garron--WRs Jim Colclough, Art Graham--TE-Jim Whalen--C Jon Morris--Gs Len St Jean, Billy Neighbors--Ts Charlie Long, Tom Neville

Defense--DEs Larry Eisenhauer, Bob Deei--DTs Houston Antwine. Jim Lee Hunt--LBs Nick Bouniconti, Tommy Addison. Ed Philpott--CBs Chuck Shonta--Ss Don Webb, Ron Hall

Kicker--Gino Cappelletti--Punter--Tom Yewcik--Returner--Larry Garron--Special Teams Player-Don Webb--Coach--Mike Holovak

Parilli was a very solid QB, nothing spectacular, but smart, strong and with great leadership qualities. Nance was probably the best running back in franchise history without a doubt, in a time when fullbacks were the real workhorses of team's running game. Besides wide receivers Coclough and Graham, who were above average, Cappelletti was no slouch as a receiver either. In fact he was a starter at defensive back in the inaugural season. Whelan was more a receiving tight end, when their use was more in blocking than catching. Jon Morris centered the line and was one of the best in the game. St Jean, Neighbors, Long and Neville were all really top lineman, but none of the four was outstanding.

As Patriot defensive lines go, this one probably was the best, until the current days three. Eisenhauer and Dee were tough large bookends and Hunt and Antwine were the insiders that really controlled the run. It's not an oddity that three were in the Pats Hall of Fame quite easily. The line was the real strong point of the defense and with the running game more prominent, the start of a solid D. Addison and Philpott were both good defensive players but the big tackler was Nick Bounaconti, who was in the middle. He was tough and relentless and his being traded to the Fins was one of many front office blunders. Shonta, Webb and Hall were all above average defensive backs. Shonta was thrown at more and that was teh reason for his big stats. Johnson would have been a top cornerback, but his career was cut short with a severe broken leg, He did a lot in just a little time, being a bright light on a poor defense that ended the decade.

Mr Patriot, GinoC did it all for the team, kicking and scoring and it is a shame that his large contribution to the Patriots has not been honored by his reaching Canton. Yewcik was the steady punter and back up QB and Garron was the best return man for the team. Webb was the special teams guy, back when that was an oversight on so many teams. Mike Holovak, was easily the best coach, but as age caught up with the players, he was blamed for the team's demise.

What is really sad is that there are at least three players from this era that by any measuring stick should be in the Patriots Hall of Fame and will not be. Jim Nance, Houston Antwine and Jon Morris all are deserving of that honor, but with the method of picking, have no chance at all. Having fans vote sounds really good, but it amounts to more of name recognition and familiarity, than of really who is deserving the honor. With Patriot fans in great numbers who did not see these great players play, what chance do they have against those that have been? This is one thing that the team has fallen flat on. If fans are going to make the 'ultimate decision' then I would suggest that those fans allowed to vote are fans that have seen a video on the three nominees. Without something like that, it's just a large popularity contest and almost losing real meaning over time. Sure, Morris and Nance were nominated in the last two years, but to so many Patriot fans of today, they are just nobodys from another era. They had little or no chance of gaining that honor and unless the process changes,it will remain impossible for any in that era to have their deserved places in the Hall. That is disgraceful, with a capitol D.

The honorable mentions---(CB--Dick Felt--He did not get the ink or the stats, but was the one that opposing QBs would not throw to because of his tough play. He was one who in retrospect might have deserved to be on that 60s decade team.) (TE--Tony Romeo--This had to have been a tough decision, for Whalan was not all that far ahead of him with stats. Romeo was the solid blocker and hand sure hands on the short passes on needed third down plays. Both were really good and neck and neck in ability) (RB--Ron Burton--He was the first player the Patriots drafted and was one of the early Patriot stars, heading a tough duo with Garron. A severe back injury took him away from the game and it was a a minor miracle that he played after, although he never reached his potential.) (LB--Jim Cheyunski--He played in the down era of the Pats, late 60s, early 70s, and was always a reminder of the linebacker he replaced, Hall of Famer Bouniconti. But he was a bright light on what was sometimes a poor defense team.) (OT--Don Oakes--It's almost like his name was never mentioned in connection with the team, but he played a number of years at left tackle and did an outstanding job, with one appearance in the AFL Pro Bowl.)

THE SEVENTIES

The team was 66-78 in the decade and most of it was a continuation of that down period. It was halfway in that the team first reached a five hundred mark, but quickly fell back. The last four years though were some of the best years of the franchise. The team almost got to a Super Bowl had it not been for a late flag by ref Ben Dreith that was deemed chinsey by so many.

Offense--QB Steve Grogan--RBs Sam Cunningham, Andy Johnson--WRs Stanley Morgan, Randy Vataha--TE--Russ Francis--C Bill Lenkaits--Gs John Hannah, Sam Adams--Ts Leon Gray, Tom Neville

Defense--DEs Julius Adams, Tony McGee--NT Ray Hamilton--OLBs Steve Zabel, Steve.King--ILBs Steve Nelson, Sam Hunt--CBs Mike Haynes, Raymond Clayborn--Ss Tim Fox, Prentice McCray

Kicker--John Smith--Punter--Mike Patrick--Returner--Mack Herron--Special Teams Player-Mosi Tatupu--Coach--Chuck Fairbanks

Grogan was the one with the gun of an arm as well as the shifty runner that led this Patriot team to new heights. With Sam Bam being the short yardage slammer and Handy Andy, the receiver and outside running threat, the backfield was versatile and tough. Vataha was the little receiver who could go deep and Stanley Steamer the wideout with great hands and speed. All World Russ Francis was tall and athletic and could catch the ball in traffic. John Hannah may have been the best guard in NFL history and with his mate, Leon Gray,.were the best on the left side in the league. It's shameful that the front office did not recognize how important this duo was and traded Gray away due to money issues. Lenkaitis, Adams and Neville rounded out offensive line, which may have been the best in team's history..

Ray Hamilton was quick at the nose, with Adams and McGee at ends, in th3 innovative 3-4 defense, Both the outside guys chased down quarterbacks as did Zabel and King, who were the outside linebackers. Both were steady in those spots. Nelson and Hunt were stars on the inside. Nellie was as fierce a competitor as there ever has been and big Sam Hunt was a large wall of a defender, who helped stopped the opponents running game. This front seven probably was the best of the four decades. Adding to that was one of the best cornerbacks of the era, Mike Haynes. Again, it was a money dispute that prevented him from having his entire career with the Pats. Ray Clayborn was not only a tough defensive back, but could return kickoffs with a flash. Tough Tim Fox and long standing safety McCray rounded out a D that was one of the best in Patriot history.

Englishman John Smith was steady and could hit field goals in the clutch while the same could be said for Mike Patrick. Mini back Herron was a great returner, more like a water bug, as he would dart up the field. His lifestyle of drugs cut his football career short. Mosi was a great ST guy. Someone at the time, said he was hard to block or tackle, as it was like tackling or blocking a coke machine. Fairbanks was innovative, brining the 3-4 to the NFL ranks from college. He turned the Pats into a solid franchise with great drafts. Unfortunately, it ended with his suspension and reinstatement before a home playoff game with allegations that he was negotiating with a college team while under contract. Another odd event in Patriot history.

The honorable mentions---(WR--Darryl Stingley--He only played for five years and missed a lot in one due to an injury, but was one outstanding receiver, returner and runner. It is a sad that he was injured as seriously as he was and that he and Mogan did not have years as receivers together as that duo may have been the best in the four decades.) (QB--Jim Plunkett--He was the big time quarterback that was drafted number one and was suppose to lead the franchise to new heights. With an offensive line like a sieve a few years without top notch receivers, he struggled, but still had some big games. With a separated shoulder and the emergence of Grogan he was traded to the back to his home in the bay.) (DE--Mel Lunsford--He had many solid years with the Patriots on those big late 70s teams. the problem was that he was the run stuffer and taken out on passing downs for the flashier rushers. One reason that I think he missed out.) (S--Doug Beaudoin--He took over for McCray when he retired and did a great job at free safety. He was always making smart plays, whether on D or special teams. I remember one play when he picked up a blocked punt and ran for a first down.) (LB--Rod Shoate--He was a starter later in the decade, but on a tier a bit lower than those that made the team. He was quick and fast and a solid player. Very sad that his life after football was filled with drugs and an early passing.)

THE EIGHTIES

The team was 78-74 and the only decade of the four to have a winning record. It was a good year, a very bad one, a shortened strike year and a metsa-metsa one before the team emerged with a bunch of winning ones, that included another Super Bowl appearance and a trouncing by the Bears. There were five good years before a tumble to close the decade.

Offense--QB Steve Grogan--RBs Tony Collins, Craig James--WRs Stanley Morgan, Irving Fryar--TE- Lin Dawson--C Pete Brock--Gs John Hannah, Ron Wooten--Ts Bruce Armstrong, Brian Holloway

Defense--DEs Julius Adams, Gerin Veris--NT Richard Bishop--OLBs Andre Tippett, Don Blackmon--ILBs Steve Nelson, Johney Rembert--CBs Ronnie Lippett, Raymond Clayborn--Ss Roland James, Fred Marion

Kicker--Tony Franklin--Punter--Rich Camarillo--Returner--Irving Fryar--Special Teams Player-Mosi Tatupu--Coach--Raymond Berry

Grogan again led this team at QB, running less but throwing the big gainers and leading the squad with gutty performances. It was sleek runner Collins and a larger back, James that fueled the running game, but it was the speed of Morgan and newly acquired Fryar that took made the long ball the staple of the offense. Tight end Dawson also made some big catches along the way. Brock inherited the center position and was quite strong and versatile. Hannah was still a strong force at left guard with Wooten and Holloway rounding out lineman from that team. In the later years, it was young Bruce Armstrong that was drafted and he probably was the best offensive tackle the team has ever had.

It was nose tackle Bishop that was the quiet strength on the line. He was a backup on those late 70s teams and continued with his tough inside rushes to the quarterback. High stepping Adams and smooth Veris were big rushers from the outside, both adding to a really tough defense/ The linebacking corp was led by older Steve Nelson who continued his tough play inside through the decade. It was a newcomer on the outside slowly emerged as a star. Andre Tippett showed how a linebacker should play the game. Completing that corps was Rembert and Blackmon, two big tough backers. Clayborn continued at one corner and was joined by Lippett and safeties, Marion and James, These four may have been the best defensive backfield in those four decades.

Barefooted kicker Franklin was a top kicker coming over from the Eagles and Rich Camarillo was a first class punter, the best ever in franchise history. Fryar was clearly the best returner and Tatupu continued to be the a ST standout, The coach was quiet and enigmatic Ray Berry, who had been with the club for awhile, took over for a hyped Ron Meyers. His attention to detail was quite famous and he led the team to its first Super Bowl appearance.

The honorable mentions---(LB--Larry McGrew--He was tall and versatile, playing both inside and outside for the Patriots in the 1980s. He did not have Nelson's leadership, Rembert's Pro Bowls, but he was a fixture at linebacker for most of the decade, starting in almost a hundred games and playing with consistency.) (S--Rick Sanford--He played in the late 70s, early 80s and was the tall lanky safety that steadied the backfield for many of those Patriot teams. Whether he was in the nickel package or starting, he played some superb football, but just a bit below Marion and James.) (OT--Shelby Jordan--He sort of got lost in the shuffle of the late 70s and early 80s, before his stint with the Raiders, but was a tall and tough right tackle for the team.) (QB--Tony Eason--Although he is disliked by many Patriot fans, for his dancing feet and lack of the gutty Gtogan, he did lead the team to its first Super Bowl appearance. In the three season he was the main man, the team lost only a total of seventeen games with his leadership and short passing skills.) (DL-Toby Williams--He was a versatile lineman who played end, tackle or later in his career, nose tackle. He was more of a lunch pail guy who did many things to keep the defensive line strong.)

THE NINETIES

The team was 68-92 and started the decade with the teams only one win season. The team had another with bad year with only two, two years later as the Sullivan to Kiam ownership stumbled. Parcells brought a better quality team, but still up and down seasons till another Super Bowl appearance and his quick departure. Then, it was two seasons and a leveling off at five hundred to close the decade. But by the middle of the deacde the team had changed hands again to local owner, Robert Kraft who brought stability to the team.

Offense--QB Drew Bledsoe--RBs Curtis Martin, Leonard Russell--WRs Terry Glenn, Shawn Jefferson--TE--Ben Coates--C Dave Wohlabaugh--Gs Todd Rucci, Max Lane--Ts Bruce Armstrong, Pat Harlow

Defense--DEs Willie McGinest, Brent Williams--NT Tim Goad--OLBs Andre Tippett, Chris Slade--ILBs Vincent Brown, Ted Johnson--CBs Maurice Hurst, Ty Law--Ss Lawyer Milloy, Willie Clay

Kicker--Adam Vinatieri--Punter--Tom Tupa--Returner--Dave Meggett--Special Teams Player-Larry Whigham--Coach--Bill Parcells

Bledsoe, the throw back quarterback who was less mobile but had the big arm. He led the franchise during most of the decade and to another Super Bowl. Russell was drafted and was rookie of the year and his next two were also standout. Martin had a few solid years before he was taken away by Parcells when he jumped to the Jets. It was Glenn and Jefferson who were the best of the decade and adding in Coates, they had a great combination of .receivers. Big Ben was outstanding, both blocking wise and catching the ball., The line included standout tackle Armstrong, guards Lane and Rucci, tackle Harlow and center Wohlabaugh. This wasn't a great group but they managed to get the job done protecting Bledsoe and making holes for Martin and others.

The versatile McGinest was on one side of the front line, but was the only one of the three on that Super Bowl team..Goad was the nose tackle in the early 90s as was the other end Brent Williams. Williams played in mostly down years, and was quiet, but very productive. One of the linebackers was standout recent HOF Tippett. He was joined by Vincent Brown, Chris Slade and Ted Johnson, all who were solid in the 3-4 D. Johnson and Brown were great run pluggers and Slade had an instinct to get to the quarterback. Added to those were cornerbacks Hurst and Law and safeties, Clay and Milloy. What was interesting was that of this 90s team, only sic played on the Super Bowl team and two of those were in their rookie years.

Vinatieri was the kicker and Tupa the punter. Both top of the line additions to the team later in the decade. Meggett was the flashy returner, who also was the third down running back, and the special teams player was Larry Whigham. The coach was Bill Parcells, the first big time coach to come to the Patriots. While he did get the team to a Super Bowl, his exit was underhanded and petty, and left a bad taste in the mouths of many Patriot fans.

The honorable mentions---(LB--Todd Collins--He was a solid run stopper was with the team sort, but sort of on a lower tier than both Brown and Johnson, which is the reason he was not on the team. He had good leadership and was also a good defender of the pass and was more the steady guy as opposed to bringing the big hits and the flashy play.) (FB--Sam Gash--he was the best fullback in this late era, when it was more about blocking and catching the short balls, than taking the ball for many carries. He was a go to guy on third downs and short yardage and brought a lot of leadership to the team, before he bolted to the Bills.) (RB--John Stephens--He was a very similar running back to Russell, both in style, physique and in how their career went. He was a bit smaller, had a bit less in the stats department, but also started quick with a big year and tapered off just as fast.) (OL-William Roberts--Although he played only two years at the end of his career, he was brought in by Parcells from the Giants. He added a quiet leadership to a relatively young line, as the starting guard in both the Super Bowl team and the year after.) (DL-Henry Thomas--he had three solid years with the team in the twilight of his career, bringing veteran leadership and tough play in the trenches.)

As one can see with these teams and the honorable mentions, there has been a multitude of outstanding players in all eras and even with the extra mentions, there are still others who were close including running backs Don Calhoun and Robert Edwards, wide receiver Cedric Jones, tight end Don Hasselbeck, center Walt Cudzik, offensive tackle Steve Moore, defensive lineman Ferric Collons, linebackers George Webster, Clayton Weishuhn and Jack Rudolph, corner back Bob Howard and defensive back Ross O'Hanley.

With the Fiftieth Anniversary Team being announced sometime this year, that will be revisited later. About half of the selections are no brainers, but there will be some that will debated for a long time.

As the economy hits hard, leagues have been looking at less earnings and trying to keep stable, but while some have looked at it and braced for that, football is almost in another world, thinking about expanding and changing.

The NFL has been the best run of all the pro leagues and they have been getting stronger every year. And now, this past month the Commish has voiced an opinion about adding regular season games. On first glance, this may seem pretty simple, two preseason games out, replaced by two real games. It's the same number of games; no change. But when one looks at it closer, it's not as easy at it seems.

For one thing, the players need to be onboard with this and adding two games presents issues of wear and tear on players and really stretches the season out. Is quality of play being lost with these games? Isn't the season at sixteen long enough? Will it really be the best football being played in the playoffs or will it be tired teams playing meaningful games? Will lack of injuries be a key factor in getting to the Super Bowl instead of outstanding play? These are some of the larger issues that need to be looked at, but there are smaller ones that are just as important.

There are lots of logistical things that have to be looked at as well. Will a roster expansion be needed with the extra games or will fifty three players be anough? Will there have to be changes in the injured reserve rules so that players might be able to return later in the year? With the extended season will that change the placement of the byes? How many weeks will a team need to get ready for the season? Will a bye before the first game break a routine for players or give them a bit of rest before the season? There are all kinds of issues as to how much will need to be done to get the team ready for the real season.

But it's not that simple., By eliminating two preseason games the only objective that that takes care of is readying the team for game one, talent evaluation and development would basically be out the window and some other means would be needed. Both of these are vital to football teams and the talk of a developmental league is so premature. That would be great, but the mechanics, logistics and economics would need to be worked out and put into place very quickly.

Also, it could change all off season programs and other activities, so it's really reinventing a whole post season to first game offseason schedule. What would work? What would not?

Considering that everything works fairly well now, changing it will only bring on more problems and issues. It's not as simple as Roger and company make it out to be. The timing for this is terrible.

And meanwhile, the uncapped year is looming and possibly a lock out. Instead of worrying about the quality of football in two preseason games and expansion and such, he should get his head out of his backside and make sure a new CBA is negotiated. One thing is for sure, a year without any NFL season of football will make the quality argument meaningless. It's time he and Smith start the negotiations of a new CBA, for these large contracts take many months to iron out. The last one was done quick and fast and was not done like it should have been. This time, it will need to be done with much thought, reflection and fairness. It might be possible to bring up all kinds of changes with that, but without a new CBA, the league may be killing the golden goose that has made the league the best of th3 four.

I know many believe that the NFL could be out of operation for a year or two and that nothing would change. 'The fans will be back.' That is quite a gamble to take with so many money at stake. All of labor strife has occurred in better economic times, so that factor has to be brought into things. Also, the hard core fans will always be back, but the league's growth happens with the peripheral fan. If they walk away, it could make it a less than pretty picture and set the league back many years. It's always good to proclaim that the fans will be back, but which ones? Does the NFL wish to gamble that away?

My hope is they get it done and bring stability to the game and that that is really the most important league issue moving forward.

 Stan Jaksina
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